Saints will hand franchise tag to Jimmy Graham before Monday deadline, he confirms

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--  New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) dunks the ball over the goal posts after his first quarter touchdown as the New Orleans Saints defeats the Tampa Bay Bucs 42-17 in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ– New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) dunks the ball over the goal posts after his first quarter touchdown as the New Orleans Saints defeats the Tampa Bay Bucs 42-17 in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

The Saints will use their franchise tag on All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham before Monday’s deadline to prevent him from hitting the open market in free agency, he said on his verified Twitter account. Earlier, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the move was coming, though it wasn’t listed on the official NFL transaction wire.

That’s really no surprise — since at least January, the Saints have publicly said they’d tag Graham if they couldn’t hammer out a long-term deal by Monday’s tag deadline.

 

 

The Saints haven’t commented on the matter, but there are two types of tags New Orleans can hand Graham: exclusive or non-exclusive.

An exclusive tag prevents Graham from negotiating with other teams. If he doesn’t agree to a new contract from the Saints and plays under the tag in 2014, Graham will receive a one-year salary equal to an average of the top five players at his position.

There’s also a non-exclusive tag. Cheaper than an exclusive tag, it permits him to negotiate with other teams and even sign an offer sheet; but the Saints would be afforded a week to match. Should the Saints opt against matching any offer, they’d be entitled to two first-round draft picks from the other team.

A salary under a non-exclusive tag is determined by calculating the average tag numbers at his position in five prior years.

Projections estimate that a franchise tag could be worth $5 million more for a tight end than for a wide receiver. That massive difference in pay is why many assume Graham — who spent most of 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints — will file a grievance through the players association to be classified under the tag as a receiver and not as a tight end.

The determination of how Graham should be paid under the tag would, in that case, be in the hands of a neutral third-party arbitrator settled upon by the players association and the NFL Management Council.

Graham might never play under the tag. Quarterback Drew Brees got an exclusive tag in 2012, and defensive end Charles Grant had a non-exclusive one five years earlier. Brees and Grant signed long-term deals before playing under the tag, however.

Recent media reports have stated the Saints are willing to give Graham more than the $9 million per year New England tight end Rob Gronkowski makes. Gronkowski at the moment is the NFL’s highest-paid tight end. But reports are that Graham and the Saints are still several million dollars per season apart from a contract that would replace the one he accepted from the team as a rookie in 2010 and has played out.

Graham has made it known it wouldn’t please him to be tagged, telling NFL Network at the 2014 Pro Bowl it’d be “real unfortunate.”

“I’m not keen on the franchise tag, … but that is really all I have to say about that one,” Graham said.

But he’s also made remarks that might assuage the anxiety his contract status has caused in Saints fans. At a local charity event appearance in the middle of February, he called Brees “my guy.”

“He always will be,” he said.

It certainly appears the Saints and Graham could be in for negotiations resembling those that involved Brees, which didn’t result in a new deal until July of that year.

Salary cap-wise, the Saints headed into Friday with an estimated figure of $125 million. Later Friday, the NFL notified teams the 2014 cap will be $133 million, higher than initial estimates of $126 million. New Orleans, therefore, doesn’t have too much economic flexibility; but it has more than it once thought it did, and it’s already talked to some of its free agents other than Graham about extending their tenures with the team.

No offseason storyline for the Saints has been as important as retaining Graham. He opened the 2013 campaign on a tear, hauling in 10 touchdowns and amassing 746 receiving yards in the Saints’ first eight games, of which they won six. He surpassed the 100-yard threshold in five of those games, including four straight from Weeks 2 to 5.

However, in a Week 6 loss to the New England Patriots, he didn’t catch a pass, and he sustained a foot injury. He then hurt his elbow in a Week 9 defeat at New York.

As he played through the injuries and opposing defenses built their schemes around limiting him, Graham’s productivity wasn’t as spectacular. In the final eight regular-season games, he caught six TDs, tallied 469 yards and reached 100 yards just once.

In the postseason, Graham had three catches for 44 yards during the Saints’ wild-card win at Philadelphia, but he managed only one grab for 8 yards — which came in the final seconds — in a divisional-round loss at Seattle, who eventually won the Super Bowl.

Graham nonetheless led the NFL in TD receptions and the Saints in receiving yards.

Free agent safety Louis Delmas visits Saints, source confirms

Safety Louis Delmas — one of the most notable NFL free agents available at the moment — visited with the Saints on Thursday, a league source confirmed for The Advocate.

Detroit Lions free safety Louis Delmas (26) is seen during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Lions free safety Louis Delmas (26) is seen during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Delmas’ trip to New Orleans is certainly timely as the Saints recently released veteran safety Roman Harper; and another mainstay at the position, Malcolm Jenkins, is due to hit unrestricted free agency on March 11.

Another safety, Rafael Bush, is set to become a restricted free agent; though he and the Saints have spoken about prolonging his stay in New Orleans, according to an NFL source. The only Saints player who both spent most of his time in 2013 at safety and is currently under contract for next year is Kenny Vaccaro, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2013.

After being limited to just eight games with a knee injury in 2012, Delmas played all of 2013 for Detroit, tallying 64 tackles, two sacks and a career-high three picks. He also had a career-high nine pass break-ups.

The Lions selected Delmas out of Western Michigan in the second round of the 2009 draft. They released him earlier this month to avoid paying him the $5.5 million base salary and $500,000 roster bonus he was owed in 2014.

Delmas visited the Steelers recently and is of interest to several teams, media reports say. Pro Football Talk first reported his sit-down with New Orleans on Twitter.

Estimates are that the Saints have a salary-cap figure of $125 million, and recent reports speculate that the 2014 cap could be about $132 million. Much of that cap space will be directed toward hanging on to All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, whether through a franchise tag or a new long-term deal the two sides are reportedly not close to agreeing on; but the team nonetheless is exploring retaining its own free agents and now also talking about attracting others out there.

Graham is at the end of the rookie contract he accepted from the Saints in 2010.

Saints begin talks to explore retaining special-teams stud Ramon Humber

New Orleans Saints' Ramon Humber (53) reacts after recovering an onside kick against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

New Orleans Saints’ Ramon Humber (53) reacts after recovering an onside kick against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Having established himself as one of the Saints’ best special-teams players in 2013, backup linebacker/soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Ramon Humber has been approached about the possibility of prolonging his time in New Orleans, according to sources.

The Saints have recently had early discussions with a number of their players who are due to hit free agency March 11 and whom they’d like to retain, including tackle Zach Strief, receiver Robert Meachem, linebacker Parys Haralson and safety Rafael Bush. Count Humber among them after he tied for third in solo special-teams tackles (6) and recovered onside kicks in both a Week 15 loss to St. Louis as well as a Week 16 defeat to Carolina.

He received almost 63,000 Pro Bowl fan votes for his efforts, which was No. 9 among special teamers. He wasn’t selected for the game, however.

Positioned under inside linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne on the depth chart, Humber has also filled in well on defense in some of the Saints’ specialty packages, recording 0.5 sacks and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage this past campaign. He arrived in New Orleans in 2010 after going to Super Bowl XLIV with the Indianapolis Colts, who lost that game to the Saints.

“We put a lot on his plate,” Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon said when asked about Humber toward the end of the 2013 season. “And we know what we’re going to get in this player — he’s dependable; he makes plays when he needs to make plays, so that’s why we kind of lean on him.”

The Saints have held the preliminary talks with Humber and the others while carrying an estimated salary-cap figure of $125 million. Recent reports have projected the 2014 cap could be about $132 million, if not more.

The primary objective New Orleans hopes to accomplish with any available cap space is to hold on to All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who’s at the end of the contract he accepted from the Saints as a rookie.

The team has said it is pursuing a new long-term deal for Graham; or, if that doesn’t materialize, it will apply the franchise tag on him. The Saints and Graham remained millions of dollars per season apart from a long-term deal as of Tuesday, Fox Sports 1 reported.

Restricted free agent Rafael Bush talks with Saints about prolonging future with team

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints free safety Rafael Bush (25) watches the final minutes of the 23-15 loss in a NFL NFC divisional football playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at Century Link Field in Seattle, Wash. Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints free safety Rafael Bush (25) watches an NFL NFC divisional football playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at Century Link Field in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014.

In news that’s not at all surprising, the Saints have had a preliminary discussion with Rafael Bush‘s camp about prolonging the safety’s stay in New Orleans, a league source said Tuesday.

The Saints have two options to retain Bush, a restricted free agent: They can tender him by March 11, which would give them the right to match any offer he might get from other teams; or they could sign him to a long-term deal. The lowest tender Bush could be offered would be about $1.3 million, the source said.

New Orleans has ruled out tendering one of its restricted free agents, defensive lineman Tom Johnson, an NFL source told The Advocate recently.

In his third season playing in the NFL and his second year with the Saints, Bush was credited by the team with 45 tackles (29 of which were solo), six pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery over 13 games and six starts. He also tacked on four special-teams stops.

He handled an increased workload well early in the season when safeties Malcolm Jenkins (an unrestricted free agent) and Roman Harper (who’s been released) were injured.

Bush also performed well after rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro sustained a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 16. And, if New Orleans is unable to keep Jenkins, many would say he’s the heir apparent to the starting job at free safety.

New Orleans has recently spoken with a number of its players who are due to hit unrestricted or restricted free agency on March 11 about bringing them back, including tackle Zach Strief, wide receiver Robert Meachem and linebacker Parys Haralson, among others. The Saints have had those early discussions while carrying an estimated salary-cap figure of $125 million.

Recent media reports have projected the 2014 cap could be about $132 million, if not more. The main thing the Saints hope to accomplish with any available cap space they’ll have as free agency arrives is to hang on to All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who is at the end of the deal he accepted from New Orleans as a rookie.

The Saints could sign Graham to a new long-term contract; but if that doesn’t materialize, they could apply the franchise tag on him. Many assume Graham — who spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints — will file a grievance to be classified as a receiver and not as a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag. A franchise tag is likely to be worth about $5 million more for a wide receiver than for a tight end.

Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped the Saints from probing the possibility of retaining players who’ve manned valuable roles for New Orleans but could get attention from other teams, and Bush is no exception.

In one of his final news conferences of the year, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lauded Bush as “an ascending football player.”

Saints have also expressed an interest in retaining Parys Haralson: sources

Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson

Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson

Add outside linebacker Parys Haralson to the list of veterans whose free agency departure the Saints have expressed an early interest in preventing.

Haralson’s camp and the Saints have had an initial discussion about a deal that would keep the 30-year-old Mississippi native in New Orleans for 2014, according to more than one league source. The team recently had similar discussions with wide receiver Robert Meachem and tackle Zach Strief.

ESPN’s Mike Triplett first reported that the Saints and Haralson were in early talks about a possible contract renewal.

Haralson, who’s been in the NFL since 2006, was a valuable contributor after the Saints traded a late-round draft pick to San Francisco for him in the wake of a season-ending knee injury that the now-released Will Smith sustained in the preseason.

He had 3.5 sacks in the regular season, fourth most on the team. He had 30 tackles, five of which resulted in lost yards; eight quarterback hits and a pass break-up.

In an interview at the Senior Bowl in January, Ryan Pace, the Saints’ director of player personnel, mentioned Haralson as one of the two acquisitions New Orleans was most proud of last year.

“Those are the moves that you really feel like you’ve done a lot of work on those guys, and then they come in and play well,” Pace said.

Getting to New Orleans, Haralson was coming back from a season-ending injury with the 49ers in 2012, when he tore a triceps tendon in his left arm in an exhibition. He tore a pectoral muscle during the Saints’ wildcard playoff win at Philadelphia and underwent surgery; but one of the sources said he’s on schedule to be fully healed by April 21, the date teams with returning head coaches can launch their offseason workout programs.

If the Saints can iron out a deal to bring Haralson back, he’d reincorporate himself into a position group that also counts on Junior Galette, second on the Saints with 12 sacks last year; and Victor Butler, who missed the campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“Mutual interest” exists to keep Zach Strief with Saints, agent and NFL source confrim

New Orleans Saints tackle Zach Strief (64) blocks during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

New Orleans Saints tackle Zach Strief (64) blocks during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

INDIANAPOLIS – The Saints‘ salary-cap situation isn’t ideal, but that won’t stop them from trying to prevent one of their best offensive linemen from departing in free agency.

 According to Strief’s agent as well as a separate NFL source, there’s a definite “mutual interest” to work out a deal that would keep right tackle Zach Strief in New Orleans for 2014 and beyond.

Strief — an eight-year veteran and starter for the Saints since 2011 — is due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. His agent, Ralph Cindrich, said Monday he spoke with the Black and Gold during the NFL Scouting Combine, which was in Indianapolis this week.

Cindrich remarked, “There is a (willingness) to get something done on both sides, and we had a good meeting and discussions.”

However, actually reaching a deal will take a lot of work. The Saints were recently estimated to be carrying a cap figure of about $125 million. As reported by ESPN, projections for the 2014 salary cap lately set it at about $130 million, if not $132 million.

New Orleans’ top priority this offseason is finding the dollars to re-sign All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to a new long-term contract or, if that doesn’t materialize, to apply the franchise tag on him.

Many expect Graham — who spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints and is at the end of the deal he accepted from the team as a rookie — to file a grievance to be classified as a receiver and not as a tight end for the purposes of the franchise tag. A franchise tag is likely to be worth about $5 million more for a wide receiver than for a tight end.

Nonetheless, it makes sense for the Saints to not give up on the prospect of hanging onto Graham as well as a proven offensive veteran such as Strief.

Strief, one of the team’s offensive captains, is one of the Saints’ top locker-room leaders. A seventh-round draft pick for New Orleans in 2006, he’s started 42 games (including the playoffs) since coach Sean Payton inserted him into the line-up three seasons ago. The analytics website Pro Football Focus gave him and quarterback Drew Brees the highest overall rating (26.5) for Saints players on offense in 2013.

After allowing just three sacks and four quarterback hits in 1,062 snaps last regular season, Pro Football Focus also gave Strief the seventh-highest rating for a tackle in the NFL.

Strief earned a base salary of $2.23 million in 2013. At the end of the campaign, he expressed his desire to rejoin New Orleans for what he called his “last opportunity sign a contract in this league.”

“Obviously this organization has been a big part of my life,” Strief said in January. “I feel like I’ve been a part of the success here and I don’t want to leave that.

“You hope that everybody at some point comes to an agreement to where you can stay. That’s how I feel. I think that’s how they feel.”

The Saints weren’t interested in retaining all of their battle-tested veterans. They recently released defenders Jabari Greer, Will Smith and Roman Harper, and they said they’d let linebacker Jonathan Vilma leave in free agency. All of them helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.

The Saints also won’t tender an offer to restricted free agent Tom Johnson, a defensive lineman, another league source confirmed to The Advocate. USA Today’s Tom Pelissero first reported the news about Johnson.

Meanwhile, on a related matter, it was midway through the combine and Will Herring — the backup linebacker and special-teams captain who is scheduled to hit free agency — had not heard from the Saints about re-signing, another source confirmed.

LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. leads way for Louisiana receivers, backs at NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) reacts at the end of a touchdown catch and run in 2013.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG — LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) reacts at the end of a touchdown catch and run in 2013.

INDIANAPOLIS — The official 40-yard dash times for Louisiana’s three wide receivers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium are in, and LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. certainly won’t be disappointed with what he clocked.

Less impressive with their times were Jarvis Landry — Beckham’s close friend and LSU teammate — and Tulane’s Ryan Grant.

Beckham clocked a 4.43, which was tied for seventh best among the 45 receiver times recorded on NFL.com. Grant’s time was 4.64, fifth slowest; and Landry’s was 4.77, which was the slowest.

There were reports that blamed Landry’s slow time on a right hamstring injury he suffered during his one and only run.

The 5-foot-11, 198-pound Beckham arrived to the combine touted as a first-round prospect. The junior put up seven reps on the 225-pound bench press.

Many pegged Landry, also a junior, to go in the late first or early second round heading into the event. He rattled off 12 reps on the bench press,

Grant, a redshirt senior, was thought to be a fourth-round pick coming in. He got eight reps on the bench press.

Perhaps no 40-yard dash time inspired more debate both at the site of the combine as well as across social media. The consensus at Lucas Oil Stadium was that the time was unquestionably disappointing for him.

However, numerous LSU pundits in Louisiana on Twitter said it had no bearing on the value he’d bring to a team, which would be as a tough, possession receiver with a proven record of hard-hitting play on special teams.

As for Grant, he’s reportedly nonetheless impressed scouts with the burst, clean route-running and sure hands he’s shown on tape and at prior workouts.

LSU’s three running backs at the combine also ran the 40. They finished in the bottom half of the field — that won’t be disappointing for the powerful 6-foot-2, 233-pound Jeremy Hill or fullback J.C. Copeland, a short-yardage specialist tilting the scales at 271 pounds. It seems to be more so for the 223-pound Alfred Blue, who’s been more of a slasher.

Hill clocked in at 4.66 — for the record, that was 11th from the bottom of a field of 33. He benched 20 times.

Copeland clocked in at 4.95 — for the record, that was the slowest time among running backs. But his 23 reps on the bench press were the fourth most at the position group.

Blue clocked in at 4.63, 13th from the bottom. He had 13 reps on the bench press.

LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Jarvis Landry talk combine in Indy

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) fires a long pass downfield in LSU's Tiger Stadium in 2013.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG — LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) fires a long pass downfield in LSU’s Tiger Stadium in 2013.

INDIANAPOLIS — Several weeks out of surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament he tore in late November, senior LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said he’s been throwing the ball and practicing drop backs.

However, he’s been limited in his reps; and though he’d “love” to throw the ball in front of scouts at the NFL Combine on Sunday, his agent and medical trainers wouldn’t allow it, he said. He’ll gear up to throw at LSU’s Pro Day on April 9, Mettenberger said Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the NFL Scouting Combine.

Mettenberger also told reporters that he’s met with several NFL teams, all of whom have asked him about his pleading guilty in 2010 to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery in Georgia after he groped a woman at a bar. As all draft prospects are advised to, he said he openly explained how and why the incident happened.

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING --  LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) shouts in celebration of a touchdown at Tiger Stadium in 2013.

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING — LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) shouts in celebration of a touchdown at Tiger Stadium in 2013.

Mettenberger tore the ACL in his left knee during LSU’s win over Arkansas. After completing 64.9 percent of his throws for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns while tossing eight interceptions, Mettenberger is projected to be taken in the third or fourth round, according to the website NFL Draft Scout.

Meanwhile, in his meeting with the media covering the combine on Saturday, LSU junior wide receiver Jarvis Landry impressed reporters by repeatedly insisting that he’ll do whatever “dirty work” is necessary to help NFL teams win.

He said he’ll continue to block linebackers, tackle on special teams or run intermediate passing routes that take him across the middle. He’ll line up in the slot or outside receiver positions, and he’ll even play corner if he needs to, he said, prompting laughter from his listeners.

Landry also spoke about his close relationship with teammate and fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham on Friday called Landry “family.”

After hauling in 76 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 TDs for LSU in 2013, Landry is projected to be picked in the second round, NFL Draft Scout said.

LSU’s Trai Turner, Greg Robinson of Thibodaux among fastest offensive linemen to run 40 yards

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU offensive lineman Trai Turner (56) walks off the field followed by LSU running back Jeremy Hill (33) and LSU safety Corey Thompson (12) after the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium in November.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG — LSU offensive lineman Trai Turner (56) walks off the field followed by LSU running back Jeremy Hill (33) and LSU safety Corey Thompson (12) after the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium in November.

INDIANAPOLIS – One offensive lineman from Thibodaux (Auburn’s Greg Robinson) and another from New Orleans (LSU’s Trai Turner) were among three players at the NFL Scouting Combine who posted the fastest 40-yard dash times in their position group on Saturday.

Robinson, a tackle, ran an official time of 4.92 seconds at Lucas Oil Stadium, which was second-best among 40 results. Turner, a guard, ran an official time of 4.93 seconds, which was third.  Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan ran the fastest time, 4.87 seconds — he’s projected to be one of the first few picks in the draft in May.

Auburn offensive linesman Greg Robinson (73) is pictured during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Auburn offensive linesman Greg Robinson (73) is pictured during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Robinson, a redshirt sophomore, is expected to be one of the top few draft picks, too. His time certainly didn’t hurt his standing, and he had the No. 7 most reps (32) bench-pressing 225 pounds.

The website NFL Draft Scout projected Turner, a sophomore, to be a late-round pick — if he was drafted at all. His good showing in the 40-yard dash created a buzz around the site of the combine. He was among several lineman that had 25 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Saints hope to hammer out new contract with Robert Meachem, sources say

New Orleans Saints' Robert Meachem, right, catches a pass against Philadelphia Eagles' Patrick Chung during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

New Orleans Saints’ Robert Meachem, right, catches a pass against Philadelphia Eagles’ Patrick Chung during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Saints are interested in hammering out a deal that would bring veteran wide receiver Robert Meachem back to New Orleans for 2014, more than one league source has confirmed.

The Saints and Meachem’s camp had broached the topic of a new contract by Friday, one of the sources said. Of course, what will ultimately determine whether Meachem rejoins the Black and Gold is if he and the team can agree on how much money he’s worth to New Orleans.

Meachem — due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 — had only 16 receptions for New Orleans in 2013. But he led the Saints in yards per catch (20.3) and had a pair of touchdown grabs; and the 6-foot-2, 210-pound wideout is valued greatly by coach Sean Payton’s staff for his ability to block well down the field.

Meachem has been in the NFL since the Saints drafted him in 2007, and he earned a base salary of $715,000 from New Orleans last season. Only one of his seasons has not been with the Saints: In 2012, he signed a four-year, $25.5 million contract with San Diego that guaranteed him $14 million.

The Chargers released Meachem after he caught 14 passes for 207 yards and two TDs, and he returned to the Saints at the beginning of the 2013 regular season.

It didn’t take long for Meachem to show the hustle that the Saints love in him. In a Week 2 win, after Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster picked off a Saints pass at the 15 and returned it for a touchdown, Meachem raced 96 yards from the Buccaneers 2 to New Orleans’ 2 in an effort to prevent the score. He tripped Foster up near the goal line, though the linebacker still managed to score.

Meachem, a native of Oklahoma who joined the NFL out of Tennessee, is one of three unrestricted Saints free agents who helped the team win its lone Super Bowl title at the end of the 2009 season. He has 157 catches, 2,593 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns in 77 regular-season contests for the Saints. His 25 TD receptions are the eighth-most in franchise history, and he has another 17 catches, 292 yards and a scoring grab in eight playoff games.

Another six Saints from the championship squad are still under contract.

ESPN wrote earlier in February that the Cowboys might target Meachem. There’s been speculation that Dallas might release veteran receiver Miles Austin, and the idea is that Meachem could come in to add affordable, veteran depth.